Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21
Among the most common facets of leading a team is successfully executing a plan. The most successful leaders are often not those who are the most creative or innovative, but rather those who have the discipline to carry through on company initiatives, or organize the fulfillment of goals they put before their team.
Focus on a goal. A significant threat to great execution is mission creep. You begin with one destination in mind and end up at an entirely different finish line. Goals must be clear to all involved, sound for the business, and attainable. Never have two goals if you can deal with only one; they’ll fight for dominance. If you must have more than one goal, determine in advance which of them is most important, and which is of secondary importance. At every step along the way, and at each key decision point, ask yourself, is this moving us steadily toward our goal?
Keep it simple. Just as goals must be clear and minimal in terms of number, the process for execution must also be simple. Don’t set up 10 steps if five will do. With each element added to the plan, ask yourself, is the absolutely necessary? What would happen if we skipped this step? How can we maximize our time on dealing with the elements of the plan that really matter? Simplicity for any team is an exceedingly difficult thing to achieve. A simple plan makes all other elements of the project more manageable and attainable. Complexity reduces the speed of execution and could add potential confusion or miscommunication.
Trust competent leaders. There’s an old business saying about hiring competent people and then getting out of their way. Whether your team is exceptionally experienced, or completely green, at some level you must trust the competency of the leaders within your purview. Micromanagement will leave you exhausted, and will frustrate your team. Further by not extending trust, your attempt at execution may create a team that has no buy-in to the project. To experience stellar execution you must have a team that is putting themselves on the line and taking risk for the sake of the project.
Measure along the way. Having only a goal, and no measurement between start and finish, generally leads to a fevered rush to complete something at the last minute, often with catastrophic result. Measurement could be action steps, personnel goals, or a timeline. Whatever your methodology, pull your head up from the desk at regular intervals to check progress and adjust where needed. This might mean moving personnel, adjusting the goal, or reallocating resources. Today’s airplanes fly by computer, taking in hundreds of data points every second and adjusting the flight plan every second to compensate. This constant measure, adjust, measure, adjust keeps the flight on course and on time.
Know when to say no. The greatest execution failure most businesses experience is saying yes to things along the way that result in goals that drift, plans that get complicated, and tangents that become measuring points. As a leader the most effective tool you may have in your arsenal to arrive at stellar execution may be the word, “no”. It’s a difficult word to say, because it will likely stir some negative feelings in the minds of those who wanted “their thing” to be a part of the project. But “no” will clarify, simplify and focus a team on a goal like no other word. Knowing when to say “no” after a project has been defined and begun is also relatively easy—almost always.